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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The final season of AMC's advertising drama "Mad Men," Netflix's political thriller "House of Cards," and Amazon's new transgender comedy "Transparent" garnered 11 nominations each on Thursday for the 67th Emmy Awards, the highest honors in television.
In a highly competitive year with no shortage of new shows and diverse faces on the small screen, premium cable channel HBO extended its long reign atop all networks, with 126 nominations. Its popular medieval fantasy "Game of Thrones" scored an astonishing 24 nods but faces another tough year to win a top award.
"Mad Men," which chronicled the advertising world and shifts in American society during the 1960s through its main character, Don Draper, ended its eight-year run this year and is likely to be a favorite to win its fifth award for outstanding drama series, the top Emmy.
Jon Hamm earned his eighth nomination for his dark portrayal of Draper, but has never won. He will vie for best actor in a drama against Kevin Spacey, who plays the diabolical politician Frank Underwood in "House of Cards."
AMC will no doubt be lobbying hard for "Mad Men" and Hamm to replicate last year's farewell wins for its drama "Breaking Bad" and star Bryan Cranston. Meanwhile, the "Breaking Bad" prequel, "Better Call Saul," grabbed seven nominations, including best drama.
"Transparent" is the top new series among nominees, after having won critical acclaim and Golden Globes for its comical and human portrayal of a family patriarch who transitions to life as a woman. The role is played by Jeffrey Tambor, who will be a favorite to win best actor in a comedy series.
"Transparent" put Amazon Inc on the television map last year and helped the online retailer earn 12 nominations, its first ever. With uncanny timing, the comedy also plugged into one of the big civil rights themes of modern-day America, the rights of transgender persons.
Netflix Inc, the online streaming service that has paved the way for digital platforms, garnered 34 nominations, including seven for the new quirky comedy "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and four for "Orange Is The New Black," competing this year for best drama instead of comedy.
While it was a good year for actors of color in the acting categories, Fox's new popular hip-hop series "Empire" did not earn a best drama nomination, one of the biggest snubs of the 2015 Emmys.
"Empire" lead Taraji P. Henson will compete against Viola Davis of "How To Get Away With Murder" for best drama actress. It was the first time two African-American women had been nominated in that category, said Cynthia Littleton, managing editor of television at trade publication Variety.
"None have ever won, so this could be the year that changes," she said.
The diversity among 2015 Emmy nominees contrasted with the much criticized year for the film industry after no actors of color received Oscar nominations.
"The faces you're seeing (on television) are much more reflective of our diversity in our country today than 10 years ago, so as an industry, we've made some strides," said Bruce Rosenblum, Television Academy chairman and CEO.
In the best actress comedy category, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is up for her fourth straight Emmy win for her portrayal as the hapless president in HBO's "Veep."
"As President, my staff and I are too busy doing the people's business to watch television," Louis-Dreyfus said after "Veep" earned nine nominations. "Nonetheless, we are thrilled to be a part of this celebration of creativity. (Go Jon Hamm!).”
Newcomers seemed to fare well, with over half of nominees in the lead acting categories being either first-time nominees or from new series.
Emerging comedian Amy Schumer was nominated for her first acting Emmy for her raunchy "Inside Amy Schumer," and veteran Lily Tomlin earned her 22nd nod, this time for playing a New Age septuagenarian in new Netflix comedy "Grace and Frankie."
Among the leading comic men, Will Forte was nominated for new apocalypse comedy "The Last Man on Earth," and Anthony Anderson received his first nomination as the father in African-American cultural identity comedy "Black-ish."
Thursday's nominations confirmed the narrowing chasm between the stalwart network broadcasters and the digital newcomers. ABC took 42 nods, NBC and CBS 41 each and Fox 35, just one ahead of Netflix.
The Emmys will be presented in a ceremony hosted by comic actor Andy Samberg in Los Angeles on Sept. 20 and broadcast live on the Fox TV network.
Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Bernard Orr